Is Work from Home Our New Way of Working?

Posted by Alison Heller-Ono on March 13, 2020

home office

The New Normal, At Least For Now

It's hard to say how long the COVID-19 virus will continue to change how we do business and interact. With the shutdown of significant sporting events, university closures, lights out on Broadway, and even the closure of Disneyland, we all need to batten down, at least for now. The economy is so hard hit in just a few weeks; it's like it has the Coronavirus.

This global pandemic has made it certain government is vital in managing public health. What is unclear is why some countries have responded well, and others are in chaos. It comes down to leadership, preparedness, readiness, and a systems approach-all vital components of organizational ergonomics and human factors.

Organizations need to decide how they will proceed in the coming days. Many are closing up shop and sending workers home. In the past, telecommuting was a dream for many. Now, it's a forced reality. Employers who are in this position should consider developing a "work from home" policy and procedure, if they don't have one.

Several essential resources to help employers stay current and develop appropriate plans include the following:

OSHA Response

EEOC and the ADA Response

CDC Employer Notice

Home Office Ergonomics Program

So, What Are We to Do?

If work from home is your new routine, then make sure you are set up correctly. For most people, a typical home office is really not an office at all but a laptop on the kitchen table, kitchen counter, or an old desk with a chair purchased from the local thrift store. 

Exposure to an improper home office workstation set up for eight hours a day, forty hours a week for the next month or two, can easily trigger musculoskeletal discomfort. Typically, the mid and lower back become sore from a poor chair fit resulting in a lack of support. The wrists become sore from leaning on a hard surface or hard edge and pivoting back and forth with mouse or trackpad use. The neck and shoulders become uncomfortable from looking down at the laptop screen, which is far below the horizontal line of sight.

While staying home might help protect you from the Coronavirus, a poor workstation setup can cause its problems. If your home office sounds like what I've just described, or worse, then you need a little help. Here are four must-do strategies for a safe home workstation set up with a laptop. Follow these suggestions to keep yourself from experiencing neck, back, and wrist pain.

Four Must Do's for a Safe Home Workstation Setup 

  1. Chair: Adjust your chair to allow your feet on the floor. Sit fully into your chair, so your back is well supported in an upright posture. If your chair is uncomfortable or doesn't fit correctly, use a pillow behind your back or to sit on.
  2. Laptop: If you are using a laptop, raise the laptop on several books (6"-10"H) to be close to your seated eye height. Use a separate standard size keyboard and mouse instead of the laptop keyboard and trackpad. Avoid leaning your wrists on the hard edge of the table or counter. If you must lean, then use a wrist rest.
  3. Work surface: If your work surface is higher than your elbow height when you are seated with your feet on the floor, raise your chair, so your elbows are equal to the desk height. Use a footrest, small box, or something sturdy under your feet. Don't let your legs dangle.
  4. Breaks: Take frequent standing breaks and task interruptions. Avoid sitting longer than sixty minutes without a postural change. Get a cup of coffee, snack, or walk the dog (who loves that you are home!)

It's a wise investment to have a good setup for your comfort and productivity. You can set up a nice home workstation with your laptop for under $200.00 using some good ergonomic products.  I'm listing a few from Kensington, just because they have done a great job at creating affordable, easy to use products (no sponsorship or fees paid for this mention). There are many other companies with similar products offering great design and affordability, as well.  

  1. Kensington Easy Riser Go for laptop support.
  2. An external keyboard (any type)
  3. A comfortable, ergonomic mouse fitted for your hand size
  4. Footrest
  5. Chair back rest and/or seat cushion

If your cash strapped or your company won't support, then check out my home office quick fixes and hacks guide, Quick Fix Guide to Workstation Setup.

Stay Safe, Healthy and Keep in Touch With Your People

Working from home can be novel for a bit, but after a while it can be isolating and lonely and even cause discomfort. Using the resources mentioned here will keep you safe and healthy for the time being.

For now, to avoid COVID-19, we must work this way experiencing minimal human contact until the pandemic resolves. Thanks to technology, video conferencing, facetime live, and an ergonomic home office, we can work comfortably from home while staying safe and well connected to our family, our friends and co-workers.




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